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Solar power is a practical and progressive way to power our world while also having less harsh impacts on the environment. The world is changing its mind about this resourceful way of charging our electronics and so much progress has been made just in the last decade to improve more natural means of power such as wind, solar, and water powering. But when will our cell phones be surged by the power of the sun?
The reason we don’t have solar powered phones yet is quite interesting because we have in fact had a solar powered phone, but barely anyone knows about it. In 2009, Samsung released the first solar-powered cell phone on the market. The Samsung Guru E1107 was designed with a small solar panel to the backside of the phone but the reason almost no one is aware of this breakthrough is because the design failed. It was unable to create enough meaningful and lasting power to charge the phone.
The 5 reasons we don’t have solar powered phones yet include:
- Changeability in weather/ sun-consistency
- Not being powerful enough compared to electricity
- Not mainstream enough to be affordable
- Not stable enough to provide a complete electrical current
- The panel required would be too large currently to be practical with petite smartphones
We will discuss the reasons the technology is so incredibly close yet just not quite there yet, the advantages, disadvantages, options to charge your phone by solar power which are currently available, and how long we’ll have to wait for the full-blown breakthrough! If you’ve ever wondered about a more environmentally friendly option to charging your world, this guide will be your go-to for all things solar and cell.
The 5 Reasons We Don’t Have Solar Powered Phones, Yet!
The answer to this is that we have (fascinatingly enough) had solar powered cell phones nearly a decade ago! The design failed, but why is it still taking so long to make progress?
The short answer is – they’re working on it. I personally don’t feel it’s far off based on the progressions made for eco-friendly power and the work that’s been done thus far. It’s certainly in our midst but what precisely is the holdup?
To put it simply:
- Not powerful enough
- Not mainstream enough
- Not stable enough
- Not practical in size
These all seem like solvable problems at hand, because we already have hundreds of solar-powered panels to charge your cellphone, just none attached to the actual phone yet. That’s promising though, right?
They’re already charging calculators by solar power, but phones are a different story based on how much charge they require.
The first solar powered cell phone, the Samsung Guru E1107 had so much potential as it was created for third world countries and places which experienced a lot of power outages. It’s amazing that work was being done in these hostile living environments to make power a more accessible resource.
The issue was that the Guru would only be able to hold a charge for around 5-10 minutes. Basically, you would leave it out to charge all day and only be able to call mom for 5 minutes. Not the most useful, but good try!
For this short call, it would zap the power line and absorb a day’s worth of solar energy. The design made sense for the market’s it was targeted at.
Design Attempt Two – The Samsung Blue Earth
The second attempt was released in the same year, 2009, by Samsung. Now the design had mastered a full 10 minutes of phone conversation from the solar power panel on the backside of the cell phone.
The Blue Earth was actually quite a quick advancement as compared to the Guru. Now the phone could search the web, YouTube, hop on social media, and do advanced activities which the earlier design of that same year was nowhere near capable of reaching.
The Blue Earth was even constructed of recyclable materials, sold in a recycled cardboard box which the user could hold onto as it doubled as a stand, making this design perhaps the world’s most eco-friendly phone to date.
There is a link to the phone on Amazon still if you’d like to get a visual image of it, but the listing is unavailable with no signs of becoming available anytime soon – Samsung Blue Earth
The reviews are intriguing with a real balance of 1 rating per star (1 1-star rating, 1 2-star rating, etc.) with 6 users voicing their opinions on it. The general consensus is that the design is interesting but not practical.
When will Samsung attempt these designs again? Why have they taken a decade off from these advancements? We will explore these topics, but first, let’s understand why solar power is the direction they ought to be moving in.
Advantages of Solar Powered Phones
Some of you may be asking – why solar power? Fair question.
The reason solar power is advantageous and practical is because it can be used anywhere. You’re not tied to a wall, waiting for a plug to become available, or stuck at home until it’s complete.
You can be on the move, doing all you need to get done, while your phone actively charges in the sunrays.
- Unless you’re a deep-sea diver, you’ll always be close to a power source.
- Environmentally friendly – this low impact design doesn’t tap into the power grid therefore you’re not utilizing expendable fossil fuels to energize your phone. It is much cleaner to the planet and just imagine the ripple effect of everyone doing more for the planet? Don’t you think between the nearly 3 billion owners of cell phones in the world, that could have a huge impact?
- Cheaper – this will be in the long run because upfront, the solar powered phones may be high in price. This is the way for any new technological advancement. It’s incredibly expensive until it’s not. But speaking in long-term, you wouldn’t be wasting all your money on your energy bill. The savings could be astronomical across a 10-year duration (pun intended).
- This ties into – not being susceptible to a power outage. If the apocalypse comes, there will be no charging your phone. I’m half joking and don’t think an apocalypse is anywhere in our midst. But if hypothetically it were, wouldn’t you rather have a solar powered phone then just be out of luck?
These are just a few basics to consider, but let’s explore the disadvantages which are ultimately the reasoning behind solar powered cellphones not being available to the mainstream market.
Reason #1 Sun-Inconsistency
The disadvantages are low in number but high in significance. Meaning, there may not be a ton of cons, but the ones we have, are significant.
The impactful drawbacks to the solar design are what has led the solar powered phones to be placed on hold. Shortcomings have led to delays and not the designs appear to be at a standstill (based on the ten-year gap in Samsung attempts).
The main reasons we don’t all have solar powered phones yet come down to stability and efficiency.
The difficult part about the sun is that some climates are sunny year-round, while others like Seattle, may not have sun for many days at a time. This will not be a reliable solution to cloudy Londoners or dark Alaskan days in towns like Barrow which are in absolute darkness for around two full months of winter.
However, if you’re living in a place like Kenya, where the sun shines powerfully for the majority of the day and electrical currents aren’t always available, the sun’s inconsistency is unlikely to be an issue.
The answer isn’t simply about the sun’s exposure, but also where you store your phone.
Often times, people have their phone in their pocket all day, unreachable by the sunlight. How are they to obtain energy in this case? What if you’re working in an office all day and don’t sit by a window for sun charging? In these cases, you’d head into evening with barely enough charge to last you through the night.
Being at the mercy of the sun is not optimal to many consumers, understandably, which has made the product less useful to a large chunk of the audience.
Reason #2 Not Enough Power
This is what I would argue as being the main reasoning for the standstill of solar cellphone production.
As mentioned with the initial prototypes of Guru and Blue Earth, what good is a phone to you if you leave it out to charge all day and only can extract a 10-minute call or half a YouTube clip? Quite useless in my opinion.
Talking on sunshine would be delightful, if it worked properly. But the comparative value in the electrical surge to our phone as compared to the sun’s rays, are figuratively speaking day and night.
The designs will need some major tinkering done to be comparable to the 9-11 hours that my Android phone will maintain a charge.
I do want to note again – there are solar charging panels which do charge your phone with the same lasting power as if you plugged it into a wall (I will recommend some to purchase below!) But the only factor here is that they are quite a bit slower to charge and large in structure (which is why they haven’t figured out how to make them petite enough to fit on a small smart phone yet).
Reason #3 Not Mainstream Enough
The real answer to this lies in solar powers expense. It is more costly to create these sources of power collection, because they are relatively new and undeveloped.
This is the case for every new piece of technology that comes out, it costs a fortune at first until everyone has it then it’s cheap. I believe the same will unfold for solar powered phones, so perhaps waiting until the masses have had their pick will help affordability.
There are places in the US where electricity retails for more than the cost of solar technology. This is a good sign for solar power becoming more mainstream and available to consumers in more than just their cell-hones.
Since you can’t power your home at night or charge your phone after dusk, this makes electrical grid connections necessary. This reason will really be tethered to the regulatory and environmental institutions of each country and where their priorities lie.
If the government wants to make this switch for their country, you can bet your bottom dollar it will be enacted. But if profit is the deciding factor, we already know that money has been chosen over the environment on almost every account by public officials.
With activists like Greta Thunberg speaking out against congress for their profit-thirsty decision making, perhaps this will make environmental impact a more mainstream issue in the coming years.
America is undeniably behind the pace, with European countries being much more eco-conscious and even recycling being mainstream to nearly every household in Europe. I hope we can say the same about America someday soon.
We ought to take inspiration from Australia, who by 2018 had the goal of nearly half their homes to adopt solar power and move, ‘off the grid.’
Until they create solar chargers attached to cell phones that don’t take 40-60 hours to fully charge, we may be waiting for a while.
Reason #4 Not Stable Enough
This section is separate from the solar energy not being powerful enough, as it more so relates to the consistency of the energy rather than the fortitude.
The stability can come in the form of seasons. According to Yan Qin, a Senior Analyst at Thompson Reuters Point Carbon, says, “you have a strong seasonality in solar production. That is a problem at higher latitudes. If you would connect all countries around the world then always somewhere the sun would shine, and problem solved. But we are still quite far from that situation.”
So besides the fact that the solar energy will be slow to charge your phone and lack that power source, it’s also not stable and consistent enough to be viable in many places.
Another inconsistency comes with the cost to expand solar power upfront. Europe planned to have 15% of their power converted to solar energy by 2050, but this plan collapsed due to costs.
Countries like the UK argue that it may take combining solar energy with wind, tide, geothermal, and nuclear power to create the kind of consistency and stability needed to make solar a viable contender. (World Nuclear)
This is certainly worth considering if it makes the energy source more readily available to the world.
Reason #5 Not Practical in Size
This is based on how physically large the solar panels are which can charge cell phones now. Designers are unable to make the charger compact/small enough to fit on your smartphone and they are a bit inconvenient in size as of now.
Essentially, we could all have solar powered cell phones now, but they’d be the size of your grandmother’s bible. Not very practical for pockets and purses, if I do say so myself.
This is an issue that will simply take time for developers to work the kinks out of and patience on our end. Even in your current smartphone or cell phone, the heaviest part is the battery. The power, as listed for a Li-Ion battery is as follows: 3.8V∗1440mAH=5.5WattHours3.8V∗1440mAH=5.5WattHours, 5.5WattHours/20Hours=0.27Watts
(In human terms – .027 watts of battery to a normal phone).
As for solar – this same amount of energy creation would only be possible with a physically large panel that will exceed the width of the cell phone. This is just the way it is until developers can find a way to get the same amount of wattage in a more compact design.
Note – You can absolutely utilize the solar power sources to charge your phone, just keep in mind they probably won’t fit in your pocket and you’ll need to find a convenient place to charge them in direct light while you’re at work or busy.
Best Solar Powered Charging Panels for Your Cell Phone
If you’re an outdoors lover or on the go in the sun often, you should consider an eco-friendlier way of charging your phone that won’t leave you desperate to find a wall outlet.
This can be a real game changer if you’re out in the desert or hiking daily. Let your charger do the work and don’t feel locked into the requirements of modern man (aka – bound to electricity). Even if you’re an indoor lover but just want to do something to minimize your power-absorption and carbon footprint, these are wonderful alternatives to consider.
Some of the top-rated panels for charging your phone through solar energy include:
- BigBlue 3 Solar Charger – Big blue folds up beautifully for on-the-go! With four high-functioning panels, this is an affordable option with 3 USBs so you can multi-charge. Users seem to love it with over 200 reviews and a 4-star rating. With Amazon prime shipping, what’s not to love? BigBlue is available on Amazon.
- Anker 21W Dual USB Solar Charger – This bad boy folds up with an opened span of about 1.5 feet. This is a lot of surface area to collect those rays and store them for environmentally friendly power! Very lightweight as well so this is perfect for hiking or camping trips with the family. Purchase yours from Amazon – Anker Solar Power
- Blavor – For the most affordable option of the bunch, the Blavor is a solar power bank which includes a flashlight and compass, as well as attachments to charge by cord. A great investment for beginners into the world of solar magic! Check out the 4.5-star rating from over 1,200 purchasers and reviewers. Purchase from Amazon here – Blavor
When shopping, search for a charger which will have around 7 watts to charge a smartphone (as listed in the insane math above, this is usually the average amount of watts for a cellphone). If it’s higher than this, you may be able to throw your iPad on top of the charging panel along with the phone! If this appeals to you, pay a bit more to get the higher wattage, it will be worth it to you.
We do have some amazing progressions that are finally at our fingertips, but what about that solar powered cell phone that can charge itself and won’t require a separate panel?
When Will it Happen?
This is a hard question to answer. Being that there are so many solar-powered panel chargers for your cell phone, I feel it’s only a matter of time before they consolidate that to being 100% attached to the phone.
Researchers believe it’s anywhere from 5-30 years away for a fully functional and fast charging solar powered cell phone that is not the size of the Rio Grande.
But who can say since the creation of solar powered energy was first discovered nearly 140 years ago! One would believe it would be in every household and business by now but look at how opposite-of-mainstream it still remains.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) is not quite optimistic with their take on the scenario being that solar electricity will be at 16% by 2050, according to The Guardian .
There has been an undeniable amount of progress considering that sixty years ago, the price per watt of solar panels was nearly $2,000 apiece. Today, solar companies are charging around $0.75 per watt, so it’s clearly gaining traction, even if only little by little.
It will take a shift from the higher-ups that decide how to make eco-friendly power sources more affordable than fossil fuels which we are consuming at a dangerously rapid rate. The pricing of regional carbon would deflate the competition from fossil fuels, but this is something that feels out of the control of the average consumers. Some argue that solar energy will not solve our energy issues alone, but it sure seems like a wonderful place to start!